The thing you notice out of the box is the brand new chassis design, making the Dell 15R the most desirable Inspiron to date. Gone is the stolid black box design that used to plague Dell's lower-priced machines, and instead a shiny red lid with a gunmetal finish is complemented by a fake brushed aluminium chassis design.
Impressively, unlike many shiny laptops, the Inspiron 15R doesn't collect dust and fingerprints too quickly, and the odd wipe with a cloth maintains its smart look. More importantly, the Inspiron 15R is very well put together, and will provide good durability for the components when you're on the road with it.
Dotted around the Inspiron 15R's chassis are a number of ports for connecting up to various devices. Four USB ports is fairly generous, letting you attach an external mouse and charge your MP3 player, for example, and still leaving you with two ports to play with.
Two of the USB ports are placed either side of the chassis, while the other two are positioned at the rear of the Inspiron 15R, which makes them a little inaccessible.
An HDMI out allows you to easily hook the Inspiron 15R up to a high definition (HD) external monitor or TV, which is great if you want to share your videos and pictures on a big screen, while there's also the standard VGA out included if you have an older analogue monitor you're keen to connect to.
A Gigabit Ethernet port sits next to the very noisy DVD optical drive on the right-hand side of the chassis, and provides the latest and fastest wired connection to a network, which will come in handy if you're going to spend a lot of time at your desk.
It seems that until the arrival of the Asus NX90 later in the year, the audiophile will have to put up with suspect sound quality from a laptop. The Inspiron 15R does produce quite a racket, but it's not a good one.
The poor quality speakers are positioned at the front of the chassis and face out towards the user. Compounding the issue, we found that when typing our arms semi-blocked the speakers, distorting sound quality even further. If you're planning on using the Inspiron 15R to regularly play music then you'll want to buy a set of desktop speakers, or simply listen through the headphone jack.
Embedded in the Inspiron 15R's chassis is the keyboard. Dell has steered clear of the isolated key style the Apple MacBook Pro uses, instead plumping for a more traditional design. The action is a little stiff for our liking, and there's quite a bit of give in the centre of the keyboard.
You're not likely to notice this flex unless you have a heavy typing action, in which case you'll detect a certain sponginess about the board, which is a little unfortunate. A dedicated number pad sits to the right of the main keyboard, and will appeal to those who regularly enter data into spreadsheets, for example. Positioned right at the edge of the chassis, it suffers from none of the sponginess issues the main board does.
A touchpad sits centre left of the Inspiron 15R's spacious palm rest. It's large and responsive, but far too easy to brush while typing. When this happens you jog the cursor, which relocates the place you're typing and constantly requires you to shift bits of text back to their original position in the document.
Fortunately, Dell has combated this by including a hot key next to the F12 button to disable the touchpad, and as a result it's not a big issue, but worth noting.
Dell deserves a slap on the back for the Inspiron 15R's fantastic 15.6-inch screen. The 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution is more than detailed enough for everyday work, including word processing and even editing detailed spreadsheets.
What really impresses, however, is the brightness and colour reproduction of the Inspiron 15R's display. We tested the laptop outside in near direct sunlight with the brightness cranked up full and had very little problem reading the screen – in darker light conditions the panel is borderline painful to view when on max brightness.
Colour reproduction is decent for the money. It's not as vibrant as the excellent Sony VAIO VPC-Z11Z9EB, and doesn't provide the intensity of Lenovo's W701 workstation, but at this price it'd be unfair to compare the Inspiron 15R with these machines.
DVD's and photos look fantastic, and if you're simply looking to edit your holiday photos you'll have absolutely no problems. The vibrancy of the Inspiron 15R's screen is largely thanks to the shiny Super-TFT screen coating, the negative effect of which is irritating reflections in bright light. This is a common symptom of the technology, and ultimately can't be held specifically against the Inspiron 15R in particular.